A South Dakota man was charged Wednesday with disorderly conducted for allegedly spilling beer on and using racial slurs toward a group of Native American students last month at a Rapid City Rush hockey game.
The misdemeanor charge against 41-year-old Trace O'Connell is the result of a nearly monthlong investigation into events at a Jan. 24 game. Chaperones for the students from the American Horse School in Allen have said the children and their chaperones left the game early because of the harassment.
O'Connell's attorney, Patrick Duffy, said Wednesday that his client disputes the charge and that he did not use racial slurs or spray beer on the students. Duffy wouldn't go into details about what happened during the game, saying O'Connell's side of the story would come out in court.
He said stories of what happened during the game at Rushmore Plaza Civic Arena have become "progressively unhinged" on social media.
"The story was told long before the facts had been revealed," he said.
Jodi Richards, the middle school principle at the American Horse School, said school officials and parents were "deflated" when they heard about the misdemeanor charge. In response, Richards said the school is looking at whether federal hate crime charges could be filed.
Rapid City and Pennington County officials went to the American Horse School on Wednesday to discuss the results of the investigation, but said the meeting grew tense and they decided to leave early for safety reasons. In a news release, Rapid City police spokesman Brendyn Medina described the meeting as "chaotic with frustration and high emotions."
Richards said the account from officials was a "definite over-exaggeration."
"People were asking a few questions," she said. "It did not get heated."
The alleged harassment has sparked an outcry from Native American and civil rights advocates in western South Dakota about underlying racism in the region. Earlier this month, Bryan Brewer, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, formed a group to confront racism in response to the events at the hockey game.
John Yellow Bird Steele, the tribe's current president, told the Argus Leader on Wednesday that he had hoped for stiffer charges.
"I believe the charges are watered down," Steele said.